When I pastored a larger church, I used to teach membership classes every year. Each year I would invite members of the congregation to take the class again as a kind of refresher course. It gave them an opportunity to brush up on a little denominational history as well as to reacquaint themselves with their membership vows. More importantly, their presence in the classes always added an extra dimension and perspective to the give and take of each session.
One such member was sitting in the class one day when I made the following statement:
“Sooner or later, we will hurt you.”
I remember glancing over at the long-standing member. His eyes got as big as saucers, and his jaw almost hit the floor. He was shocked that I would say such a thing.
I suspect the prospects were just as surprised (although they didn’t show it quite as much). Some of you reading this are probably surprised as well. Why would any pastor say such a thing about his or her congregation?
The answer to that is really quite simple. I said it because it’s the truth. Maybe more importantly, I said it because I didn’t want anyone to run blindly into the commitment of membership. I didn’t want any of them to expect perfection from our hearty band of believers.
I’m the chief sinner.
In case any of you hadn’t noticed, the church is not perfect. It is, in fact, quite imperfect. If we could just get rid of all the people, we’d probably be okay (I’m being facetious, of course). Human beings are always a problem because they’re…well…human. They have good days and bad days. They sometimes lose it with their counterparts. Occasionally, they display an inordinate lack of tact. As the Apostle Paul indicated, we’re all sinners, “of whom I am chief.”
We are human, and as humans, we are messed up. But, as we like to say, “Ya gotta love us!” (At least, that’s what the Bible says.) We have chinks in our armor and dirt on our faces. They call us the church, and sooner or later, we will hurt you.
The next thing I said to that class was, “And sooner or later, you’ll hurt us too.” It happens. We can’t seem to help ourselves. The real question is what do we do when it occurs?
That becomes one of the real tests of discipleship. Unfortunately, we sometimes turn tail and run. We don’t need this, and we’re outta here. Regrettably, that’s all too often the case. If a brother or sister in Christ hurts us, it’s easy just to leave.
It’s also a real telltale sign. It implies that we were following people rather than Jesus. It’s not Jesus who wronged us, but it’s Jesus we blame. We tend to forget that we’re just another imperfect part of that imperfect whole. Maybe we should put on our big boy pants and deal with it. It might be another good time to ask, “What would Jesus do?”